It’s late and I’m just getting started with this week’s post. I’ve been on line discussing free will with my son – an avoidance technique, no doubt, but the question of free will is so fascinating and has taken such a beating that perhaps I should just keep the discussion going here…
Adam, Eve, and Justice Roberts
Free will. The concept means nothing if we are all, as Darwinists assume, just so much protoplasm lounging in our Lazy Boys, pulsating, digesting, sloughing dead skin. If decisions are nothing more than chemicals ricocheting around in our brains, then this discussion is moot.
That we feel like we’re making choices is confusing, but for all you atheists out there – it’s all you have: just a feeling made of chemicals. How exactly you got to the point of forming an opinion about the absence of God is curious, but nevertheless mechanics is all you get to work with.
Some of you arrived in that atheist state of denial because you’ve observed or experienced horrifying human behavior and reacted with anger against the very God you claim is non-existent. Never mind that without God we cannot explain evil; we shouldn’t even see it as an issue. Why would we? Chemicals don’t have morals.
Some of you just don’t want to be accountable to any being other than your self – but if I understand your position, your will is nothing but an evolved cascade of endocrine activity. It’s odd that you would feel the need to guard it so closely.
In either instance I should point out that our sense of outrage at perceived injustice – whether we suffer it or someone else does – won’t fit with survival of the fittest. We’d survive just fine without it. My guess is that it comes from God, from that internal gauge we call a conscience. It’s hard to account for a conscience with nothing to go on but the periodic table.
But back to free will. Let’s say, for the reasons stated above, that God is a given in this discussion. And let’s pare this down to the original free will, untrammeled by bad parenting and cultural influences. Let’s look at Adam and Eve. Adam, then Eve, were created able to make decisions. God invited Adam to name the animals – he got to choose; he could choose – not from between two options; he could name them anything.
He was encouraged to eat from the trees of the Garden – only one was forbidden him, but the forbidding didn’t stop that action. He was still able to do it. That’s an important point. He got to choose: to eat or not to eat. That was evidently an easy choice, until Eve presented him with Choice 2.0 – God or Me.
He could have remembered where Eve came from in the first place, and assumed that God would provide him another “helpmeet.” He could have walked away, but he didn’t. He made that fatal choice. We could assume he was in love with her – I think it was the first and greatest love story (see the Frost poem to the right), but lesser men have made more difficult choices and chosen correctly. For that matter – why did Eve allow herself to be fooled by the serpent? Was she blonde? Did her hair color make her do it?
No one, no thing made Adam and Eve choose as they did. No one had spanked them or sent them to bed without their suppers. No inherited tendencies tipped their scales. No abusing weird uncles scarred their memories. No mean schoolteachers had damaged their self-esteem. No work pressures had them tied in knots. They were clean slates, and yet, inexplicably they each made the wrong decision.
And now, although we do have one thing stacked against us – we have inherited the twisted character that resulted from those first two bad decisions -- we’ve still been given the option to choose rightly. We can’t please God without His intervention, but we can choose, say, not to have an adulterous affair. We can choose not to rob a bank, or gossip about our neighbor, or lie about our age (I’m not really sure that’s a sin…). Hmmm…
And God has made it possible for us to “unchoose” Adam’s mistake. We can still select for God, but only on His terms. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He didn’t say, ”Work really hard to show how much you really love me and I’ll pretend it never happened.” Cain tried that course; it didn’t please God.
But upon belief in His Son we are so regenerated, so back in God’s favor that He permanently chooses us to be with Him forever. We are then elected; we are placed in union with the Son; we are God’s forever. The fact that He knew in eternity past that would happen for those of us who believe does not cause it to happen. It’s still a free will choice.
Even then we can still choose wrongly. Why does our free will, once reunited with God, continue to stumble? Partially because we are still living in bodies affected by Adam and Eve’s decisions. This is true. But God has given us alternatives and we still don’t always avail ourselves of their help. We have His Word we can use to cleanse our thinking. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide our way. We have the opportunity to actually please God. Sometimes some of us do. Sometimes we don’t.
And yet, no one thing compels us to choose – one way or the other. No thing, no circumstance, no previous injury, no current illness, no chemistry makes us do anything. God doesn’t make us do anything. Free will is still intact. If it weren’t the Bible wouldn’t be full of commands. Why tell us to do something we don’t have any choice in? Wouldn’t we be compelled to comply? You don’t order a puppet around; you pull his strings.
Paul lamented his volitional tangle, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” (Romans 7:15). Yet, he blamed the situation on nothing. It is as if our selves and our will have been separated. Perhaps that disjointed predicament is at the heart of original sin.
Nevertheless, our lives are filled with puzzling examples of the exercise of free will:
I wrote that just as I swallowed a handful of chocolate chips. What was it Paul said?
I watch the news and am dumbfounded. What force is it that makes people choose to ignore the patterns and laws of history, economics, and foreign policy, stoutly look facts in the face. and declare Marx and Keynes had it right all along? There is a force that wants them to do that, but they choose to acquiesce.
Last week Justice Roberts made a decision, an inexplicable decision, to pay more attention to politics and precedence than to the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold. It is true that no man in recent history has been under greater pressure, but the pressure was coming at him equally from both sides, so we can’t blame that. Even if it rose to threatening proportions, he didn’t have to go the way he did.
The reasons he admitted to were insubstantial; he just chose – chose to place a greater value on something (we may never know what) than on the Law of the Land. He chose, perhaps not doing what he wanted to do, but what he hated. Yet, he chose.
He exercised his free will. And no one is claiming that God made him do it.